WASHINGTON (CN) – Seeing no need for secrecy with much of the information about Hillary Clinton’s private email server already public, a federal judge cleared the way Thursday for the release of details about the FBI’s email-retrieval efforts.
U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted that the State Department produced the declaration to establish good faith, but with the catch that the court review it in camera and ex parte.
Having done so, Boasberg concluded Thursday “that it largely rehashes information already made public, thus obviating any need for secrecy.”
The declaration by FBI special agent E.W. Priestap, which Boasberg said must now be resubmitted in unredacted form, describes two grand jury subpoenas the FBI issued to third-party providers for emails she sent from two Blackberry accounts in the first weeks of her tenure as secretary of state.
Boasberg said the only new information the unredacted version reveals is the scope of the subpoenas.
“When the FBI discovered that Clinton had potentially transmitted classified information to private third-party email accounts, it sought ‘additional legal process,'” the 10-page ruling states.
Boasberg explained that the new information on the scope of the subpoenas could suggest the FBI “subpoenaed the provider information of third parties, such as Clinton’s staff.” It offers no information, however, on which third parties had classified information; which providers were subpoenaed, if any; and what these subpoenas returned.
These avenues, Boasberg noted, are already well tread.
“Most infamously, many a news outlet reported that the FBI obtained a search warrant for Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails,” he wrote.
Conservative watchdogs Judicial Watch and Cause of Action have been at the helm of the court battle.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton slammed the government’s opposition of his group’s legal efforts but said they are “happy with the ruling.”
“President Trump ought to be outraged his appointees are protecting Hillary Clinton,” Fitton said in a statement. “The State Department should initiate action with the Justice Department – and both agencies should finally take the necessary steps to recover all the government emails Hillary Clinton unlawfully removed.”
Though the government said it is within its rights to keep grand jury proceedings secret, Boasberg cited D.C. Circuit precedent in finding that secrecy is no longer necessary once grand jury matters become public.
“In this case, the government has already revealed that it issued grand-jury subpoenas to Clinton’s service providers,” the ruling states. Full disclosure of the declaration won’t endanger other secret information, Boasberg added.
According to the ruling, the first three redacted paragraphs of the declaration describe Clinton’s use of two Blackberry email accounts in 2009 between Jan. 21 and March 18, and the FBI’s efforts to recover them, which included grand jury subpoenas.
The declaration also says that no emails were recovered because none of the service providers saved any data from Clinton’s accounts, and that the FBI had only requested “‘transaction information,’ like subject lines and e-mail addresses,” in accordance with its legal obligations.
The declaration also contains the identities of the subpoena recipients, which the government was not successful in having the court conceal.
Boasberg said the public already knew about the grand jury subpoenas, and that Clinton used a Blackberry device with service from Cingular Wireless and AT&T.
“It’s not hard to connect the dots,” the ruling states.
The court did agree, however, to protect the identity of Clinton’s email service provider, which the FBI had not previously disclosed.
Judicial Watch filed the suit in 2015 against the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration, with Cause of Action Institute joining several months later. Concerned that Clinton had unlawfully removed federal records from the State Department, the watchdogs claimed that the agency had violated the Federal Records Act.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the claims as moot, but the D.C. Circuit later reversed, finding that neither the FBI nor the State Department had made an effort to recover emails from Clinton’s Blackberry account during the first two months she served as secretary of state.
A State Department official declined to comment on the ruling, citing a policy for ongoing litigation.